Study suggests patients want to use technology to self-manage
Substantially more patients would take a prescription for a mobile app than would readily accept one for a medicine, according to a new study.
A survey of 2,000 patients and carers in the US by Digitas Health found that 66 per cent of patients would accept a prescription for a medicine from their doctor, but 90 per cent would take up the offer of a mobile app.
Carried out in June, the study covered 20 disease states across the five core categories of respiratory, cardiology, CNS, gastroenterology and diabetes.
Early findings from the research were presented at Digitas Health's ThinkDigital Event earlier this month in London, with a full report due to be released in the Autumn.
Another key finding from the research was that over 60 per cent of active mobile health users were diagnosed over three years ago, suggesting people with more chronic conditions seem to continue to look for more information.
Geoff McCleary, Digitas Health's group director of mobile innovations, told ThinkDigital: “We were expecting this to be a little more recent and, looking at heavy smartphone use, we were assuming users would have only recently been diagnosed, or working with a patient.
“But we found that we're looking at people that have had a condition for some time and are still doing research and seeking to get additional information.”
The research also found that around a third of those diagnosed with a particular condition are not currently being treated with a prescription medicine and that 13 per cent were not on any form of medication.
Those using mobile health technology were, McCleary (pictured left) said, fairly evenly distributed across age groups, but they were highly skewed towards women.
Perhaps of particular interest to the industry was another finding, that nearly 60 per cent of the mobile health users surveyed were this year at least considering switching their treatment.
“A large number of people out there on a prescription medication are actually considering a change,” McCleary said. “So there's an opportunity in this space to figure out how we can better serve patient needs and get them the treatment and information that's going to make a difference to them.”
The study also found that patients and consumers are willing to spend money on a whole range of devices that help them manage their health, from monitoring devices like Nike Fuel Bands or Fit Bits to wireless scales.
“Our research has told us that they're more than willing to spend money on that and they're going to continue to grow in their usage of those things,” McCleary said.
“So they're doing that adherence level activity already without us and we, as experts in drugs, have a great opportunity to be able to help them, by providing even more information, tools and resources to use in conjunction with their medicines.”
Mobile: an embedded technology
The rationale behind the research was to dig deeper into how patients and the public are engaging with mobile health information.
Underlying this is the inexorable rise in popularity of mobile devices. Of a global population of seven billion, some five and a half billion people have mobile phones and one and a half billion have smartphones. Moreover, ownership of mobile devices is currently growing at around 30 per cent.
Mobile penetration in the US and the UK is running at about 50 per cent , and other countries within the EU are expected to breakthrough the 50 per cent threshold next year.
“We can't do without out phones,” McCleary told ThinkDigital. “ The vast majority of us have our phones within arm's reach 24/7 and we check our phone on average 150 times a day.”
Consequently mobile, for pharma's customer or stakeholders, is an important channel to consider when it comes to the industry's engagement strategies.
Pharma's next steps with mobile
“First and foremost,” McCleary suggested, “is understanding your current level of mobile demand. Call up your friendly IT representative and look at your server logs. Find out how many people are coming to your web properties from mobile devices and get a better understanding of what level of traffic you have.”
When it comes to Digitas Health clients, McCleary said, last year they might have had 15-16 per cent of their traffic from mobile devices, but this year it's looking more like being some 20-30 per cent, and even in some cases as high as 40 or 50 per cent.
“Once you've taken a look at that information, ask yourself what sort of experience you're delivering for those visitors. Are you given them a mobile optimised experience? Take a look at how satisfied they are with what they will find.
“Are they able to navigate the site and are they able to find the information that they're looking for? Is there something you can learn from the way they traffic through or interact with your site?”
It's certainly a good question for pharma, whose enthusiasm for optimising its websites for mobile has historically been very low, quite the opposite of the industry's unending enthusiasm for mobile apps of often variable quality.
But for McCleary it's not about one type of technology being better than another, it's about acknowledging the blurring of the lines between product and service and asking what the new evolution of healthcare should look like.
“The importance of this information is really around getting a better understanding of how that pill and that medication is going to be used. How does that fit into the life of the human being that needs to have that health outcome?” he concluded.